Writing the paper this week, it almost felt like it was The Forum: The Build It Back Edition.
Amy Peterson, who was appointed as the city program’s new head a little more than one month ago, came to town twice over the past week, once last Thursday to speak with Howard Beach homeowners and then Tuesday for the Howard Beach-Lindenwood Civic meeting.
On top of that, we went to the Build It Back office in Breezy Point and watched as John Cori, a Rockaway Beach civic leader and long a critic of the city’s Sandy recovery process, got nowhere with Build It Back representatives – not a surprise, we’re sure, to any of our readers. And then there was an article on the federal government apparently deciding that New York City no longer really needs help rebuilding and may take away $1 billion in funding that the city had expected to go into its Build It Back coffers – impacting thousands of residents who could have, at least in theory, gotten that money to help the rebuild.
In each of our pieces, there was most definitely a theme: When it comes to helping those whose lives were turned upside down by Sandy – who have emptied life savings to rebuild, who have been out of the houses on which they are still paying mortgages for a year and a half, who have wondered if they would ever be able to return home – the city has fallen short. As has the federal government – as evidenced by diverting the $1 billion desperately needed in New York City – but for now we shall save our criticism for the city.
Last July, people began to be able to apply for Build It Back. Despite what seemed like never-ending battles with insurance companies and FEMA to receive the help that should have been theirs, residents still remained at least somewhat optimistic that the city would restore some of their faith through Build It Back. As people wrote check after check, took out loans, used retirement savings and children’s college funds, an idea was planted that began to take root: Help was on the way. The money people were hemorrhaging could be recovered – or, at least, some of it. The houses that stood empty after people could not afford to rebuild would, once again, be filled with birthday parties and dinners and barbecues and the normal day-to-day life that, for so many, still has not returned.
But, after receiving hundreds of millions of dollars from the federal government specifically meant to help people rebuild after the storm, the city has been able to begin construction on 20 homes. Let’s go over this one more time – about 20,000 households applied for help from Build It Back.
And 20 homes are now seeing construction work. And there have been 99 reimbursement checks issued.
True, that’s better than the zero homes being constructed on and the one reimbursement check as of the beginning of this year – but, still, these numbers are no feat. We understand the city is trying. Amy Peterson certainly has gotten solid reviews among the legislators and civic leaders in this area, and the mayor has said Sandy recovery is one of his top priorities. The city has rightfully pointed out that in addition to an increase in construction starts and reimbursement checks, the number of option review meetings for Build It Back has increased from 2,566 as of Dec. 31, 2013 to today’s 10,167. This is significant, and we certainly hope it’s an indication of continued progress.
We appreciate this revived focus on Sandy recovery.
Still, the city needs to know that people are facing being homeless because of this. People are going bankrupt. People are giving up and moving away. People are wondering if they’ll ever be able to retire because they just spent everything they had saved on a home that was wiped away by Sandy.
When speaking at the civic meeting in Howard Beach this week, Amy Peterson told residents, “Don’t give up.” Ms. Peterson, Mr. Mayor, please give us a reason not to.